(STATS) – Whatever hype is about to surround the upcoming NCAA Division I FCS championship game, it won’t be enough.
Top-ranked James Madison is headed back to Frisco, Texas, to defend its title after forcing a program-record 10 turnovers off No. 5 seed South Dakota State in a 51-16 semifinal-round demolition at Bridgeforth Stadium on Saturday.
The Dukes (14-0) set up one of the more anticipated title games Jan. 6 at Toyota Stadium against No. 2 seed North Dakota State. They ended the Bison’s run of five straight national titles with a 27-17 win in last year’s semis.
NDSU (13-1) beat No. 6 seed Sam Houston State 55-13 on Friday night, but the Dukes’ 26th straight win was even more jaw-dropping. They tormented SDSU quarterback Taryn Christion into nine of the 10 turnovers – six interceptions and three fumbles – and sacked him five times to blow up the Jackrabbits’ first semifinals appearance. Cornerback Jimmy Moreland had three interceptions and safety Jordan Brown added two picks with a fumble recovery.
“After the first turnover, it becomes a competition about how many we can get,” Brown said. “Turnovers are key to the game and we go after as many as we can.”
“Ten turnovers. I don’t know if you’re ever going to win a football game,” South Dakota State coach John Stiegelmeier lamented. “That would be a miracle to win a football game.”
Offensively, James Madison quarterback Bryan Schor accounted for three touchdowns in the first half and running back Marcus Marshall scored on two long runs early in the third quarter as part of a career-high 203-yard performance.
“I’d be lying if I said I came to JMU and envisioned going to Frisco twice and having the chance to win two national championships,” Schor said. “It feels pretty surreal.”
Oddly, coach Mike Houston’s squad forced five turnovers in the first quarter yet found itself tied 7-7 with the Jackrabbits (11-3) in the second.
But the CAA champion Dukes started to take control with touchdowns on their final two possessions of the first half. Schor fired a 15-yard pass to Riley Stapleton with 8:12 left to put them ahead for good. Then after SDSU’s Chase Vinatieri kicked a 37-yard field goal with 56 seconds remaining, they still managed another score.
Marshall returned the ensuing kickoff for 38 yards to the JMU 42 and Schor connected with Stapleton for 30 yards to start the Dukes’ next possession. A pass interference penalty by South Dakota State aided the five-play drive before Schor forced his way into the end zone on a 1-yard run, putting JMU ahead 21-10 just before halftime.
The Dukes basically put the win away in the first 4 1/2 minutes of the third quarter as Marshall scored on 65- and 87-yard runs up the middle, extending their lead to 35-10.
“Really the thing that crushed us were the two long runs right out of the chute,” Stiegelmeier said. “They ran four plays and had two touchdowns. I would say we broke down there.”
Safety Raven Greene’s 59-yard interception return for a touchdown in the final minute capped James Madison’s 28-point third quarter.
Christion (18 of 43, 234 yards) only had eight interceptions entering the first meeting between the two teams. He managed touchdown passes to each of his top receivers, wide receiver Jake Wieneke and tight end Dallas Goedert, but almost everything else turned into a nightmare against James Madison’s defense.